Jesup First UMC challenges members to shape up


By Kara Witherow, Editor

By February, many resolution makers have abandoned their New Year’s goals. Whether the resolutions were to lose weight, live a healthier lifestyle, save money or something else, many are scrapped before spring.

That’s why, in early February, Jesup First United Methodist Church kicked off their 13-week Shape Up Health Challenge. With a holistic focus on health, the program was born out of a desire to have healthier minds, bodies and spirits.

“I think everyone starts out the New Year with certain goals and resolutions,” said Jesup First UMC pastor Rev. Tucker Lewis. “I sat down and personally said that one of my goals for 2012 was to be healthier.”

After sharing his thoughts and goals with a few church leaders, the Shape Up Health Challenge was launched.

Not merely a weight-loss program, the Shape Up Health Challenge has spiritual, physical and emotional components.

“The idea is for us to be healthier today than we were yesterday,” Rev. Lewis said.

He’s off to a good start.

With a goal of losing 20 pounds by Easter, Rev. Lewis has lost more than 15 since Christmas.

“I had quit exercising, I had quit walking, I had fallen off the face of the earth as far as exercise was concerned,” he said. “One day I woke up and realized that we were going to start this challenge and the pastor was going to have to do it too, so I went into overdrive and picked my walking back up.”

The church’s Shape Up Health Challenge focuses on a different aspect of health for each of the program’s 13 weeks. Participants were first challenged to walk 10,000 steps each day. Rev. Lewis averages between 12,000-20,000 steps daily.

“I changed my routine,” he said. “I’m less sedentary and more active in my daily life.”

He parks at the back of parking lots and no longer takes elevators, preferring to climb stairs. If sitting in his office preparing a sermon or writing a Bible study lesson, he sets his watch to go off each hour. When it alerts him, he gets up and takes a 10-minute walk around the block.

“Anything to become more active,” he said.

The 10,000-step-per-day goal is carried throughout the 13 weeks. If all participants average 10,000 steps a day for 13 weeks, they, as a group, will have walked the nearly 6,380 miles from Jesup to Jerusalem. Those who aren’t physically able to walk can earn “spiritual miles” by reading four chapters of scripture and praying each day.

Other weeks’ health challenges focus on getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours each night), dental health, and eating more vegetables. Each week includes scripture readings and a prayer. Rev. Lewis wrote prayers that correlate to each week’s themes and turned a year-long Bible reading plan into a 91-day plan.

“Part of the great thing about this challenge is just being part of a group,” said Jesup First UMC Lay Leader Mavis Rosbach. “We want to get back to being a ‘church family,’ and having a project that we can do together but that we’re doing for ourselves plays into that.”

Nearly 80 church members – ranging from 11 to 80 years old – are participating in the Shape Up Health Challenge, and many of them get together to walk each Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

An avid runner, Ruth Sharp slows her pace twice a week to enjoy the fellowship and community the walks afford.

“I think this has brought us a lot closer together as a church,” she said. “We have a lot of conversation together and we enjoy it.”

Participating in the challenge has also given Rosbach a fun and different way to witness and reach out to strangers.

The pedometers all participants wear make a clicking noise, and she often explains to those nearby the origin of the noise and why she’s wearing a pedometer. While in a Brunswick shoe store, Rosbach tried on boots next to a mother and daughter. Unzipping a boot, Rosbach exposed her sock, in which her pedometer was hidden. She made a joke about her “unsightly pedometer bulge,” and the three struck up a conversation during which Rosbach was able to share about Jesup First UMC’s Shape Up Health Challenge.

“It’s an easy way for us to connect with someone,” she said. “God made me an outgoing person, and I can use this other little thing to help share my faith with someone else. There have been several conversations like that that would have never taken place had I not been wearing the pedometer.”

Rev. Lewis hopes that, through this 13-week program, participants will become healthier physically and spiritually.

“If we’re healthier as individuals I think eventually we’ll be healthier as a community of faith,” he said. “Paul talks about glorifying God with our bodies, and I want to be able to do that. I want to be able to do that personally and as a church. I think God made our bodies to be so connected that they can’t be divided. Strong spiritual health, strong mental health and strong physical health all go together. We’ve got to do our best to stay healthy, mind, body and spirit.”